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Sunday, August 31, 2008

My Photos from the Democratic Convention

Ann-Marie Luciano Bio

Here is a link to some of the pictures I took while at the Democratic Convention in Denver - my husband, Chris Hull, helped me to upload these to the web page.

As you can see, I had an incredible time meeting so many different politicians and journalists. The Maryland delegation had a wonderful experience, with interesting speakers invited to our daily breakfast meetings and the evening parties hosted by various Maryland elected officials. I hope you'll check it out. I'll be posting a summary of the week later.

Republicans Scale back Convention Due to Gustav

George Wenschhof

4:00 PM ET - In a televised appearance, Senator John McCain spoke from St. Louis and said it was time to do away with party politics and act as Americans. The time for action is now. He is optimistic we will not see the mistakes of Hurricane Katrina repeated. At present, Hurricane Gustav is expected to hit by noon tomorrow.

They will suspend most of the activities tomorrow in St. Paul, Minnesota. Convention staff then gave a brief rundown of what will occur tomorrow. This included meeting the basic requirements of calling the convention to order, adopt rules and party platform, etc. The session tomorrow will start at 3:00 and conclude by 5:30 PM CT.

As to planned activities for Tuesday, they intend to wait and see and then decide how to proceed. They also plan to have their finance committee do what they can to raise money for the charities in the gulf states that will be doing relief work and assistance. The only legal requirement that must occur at the Convention is a roll call formally nominating the Republican President and Vice-President candidate.

Earlier, President Bush and Vice-President Chaney announced they would not attend the Republican Convention on Monday due to the Hurricane. President Bush had been scheduled to speak.

Dem Campaign Chatter 8-31-2008

George Wenschhof

Today, Obama and Biden are in Toledo, Ohio and Battle Creek, Michigan - Dayton, Ohio, is where McCain announced Governor Sarah Palin as his VP pick.


Obama receives 8 point bounce from Democratic convention, now up 49% - 41% in the latest Gallup Poll - McCain and Obama were tied as the Democrats began their convention in Denver. has more here. Let's see how the polling looks after the Republican convention.


Wow! Hurricane Gustav is now a category 4 and may become a category 5 - it is anticipated to hit the gulf coast Monday or Tuesday at the latest. Mandatory evacuation has been ordered for New Orleans. It seems like just yesterday Hurricane Katrina battered New Orleans and FEMA dropped the ball. Let's hope and pray for the safety of the families affected and for a minimum loss of property.

McCain tells Fox News he may alter the Republican convention due to Gustav. has more here.

Also, President Bush announced it is unlikely he will attend the Republican convention due to Gustav. Bush was scheduled to speak Monday night, although some Republican strategists did not want him to attend due to his low approval ratings. has more here.


Obama ad out after Palin selection - a 30 second ad is running which basically spells out McCain has now made his choice and America can not afford more of the same. Mentions McCain out of touch with the economic struggles Americans face, the 10 Billion a month spent in Iraq, and that McCain voted with Bush 90% of the time. Watch the ad here.


McCain decision to accept Public financing will impact the campaign - campaign boasts of raising 6.8 million since the announcement of Palin. However, as of the day McCain officially accepts the Republican Party nomination, his campaign will be limited to 84.1 million in spending the rest of the way. He was scheduled to accept the nomination on September 4 but that may be altered due to Hurricane Gustav. has more here.

The Obama campaign hopes to raise 200 million for the General Election.


Yesterday, Obama and the Clintons attend memorial service for Stephanie Tubbs Jones - The popular and energetic Representative from Ohio died from a brain hemorrhage as a result of a ruptured aneurysm. The service was held at a Church in Cleveland, Ohio. has more here.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Sunday Morning "Talking Heads" 8-31-2008

George Wenschhof

This should be a Sunday morning filled with a lot of political buzz and analysis on the Presidential race. The Democratic Convention has just concluded where 38 million viewed Senator Barack Obama's acceptance speech, Senator John McCain has picked Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate, the Republican Convention begins Monday and Obama and McCain are on a battleground states tour.

Topics for discussion remain numerous as the economy continues to tank while energy prices and unemployment continue to rise. Overseas, the cold war threatens to break out anew as Russia and the republic of Georgia disagree on the status of the breakaway regions of South Osettia and Abkhazia. While Pakistan, a nuclear armed country, elects a new President on September 6 after the resignation of Musharraf, a staunch U.S. ally.

NBC "Meet the Press" - Tom Brokaw form St. Paul, Minnesota, home of the Republican convention will interview Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. Pawlenty was speculated to be McCain's VP pick all the way until Gov. Palin was announced. Rumors are he and former Governor Mitt Romney, another on the McCain VP short list were furious when they learned who had been selected.

Also, Brokaw will have his political roundtable with Dick Gregory, Doris Goodwin, Andrea Mitchell, Mike Murphy and Kelly O'Donnell.

ABC "This Week" - George Stephanopoulos interviews Cindy McCain, wife of Senator John McCain. Also appearing will be Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Senator John Kerry (D-Mass)

CBS "Face the Nation" - Former New york Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Senator Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), David Brooks, and McCain adviser, Carly Fiorina

Fox News - Chris Wallace will have as his guest Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican Party nominee for President. Expect a lot of talk on his VP pick.

CNN "Late Edition - Wolf Blitzer will be previewing the Republican Convention. There was serious debate among Republicans as to whether President George W. Bush suffering from horrible approval ratings should even be given a speaking role. In the end, they gave him a spot on Monday night.

Interestingly, if Hurricane Gustav hits New Orleans on Monday, it wouldn't look too good if George W. was speaking at the Republican Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota. It would highlight the Katrina catastrophy, one of the major failures of his administration. If the hurricane hits New Orleans, expect Bush to cancel or reschedule.

Video of Obama's Acceptance Speech

George Wenschhof

Today, the Obama campaign emailed out to supporters, the video of his speech last Thursday in Denver when he accepted the Democratic Party nomination for President of the United States. Last Thursday over 80,000 were in attendance when he gave this historic speech and a record 38 million watched on TV. In case you missed it or if you are like me and want to watch it again, here is the video. You can read the prepared text of the speech here.

Watch Barack's speech

Friday, August 29, 2008

Governor Palin is Hardly Change

George Wenschhof

As I reported earlier this morning, Republican Senator John McCain running out of time to choose a running mate, announced Governor Sarah Palin today as his VP pick.

It is great that the presumptive Republican nominee choose a woman to join him on the ticket. We now know there will definitely be a first in the election. Either the first woman will be elected Vice President or a African-American will be elected President.

Unfortunately, Governor Palin represents more of the same failed polices we have seen over the last eight years under the George W. Bush administration.

Rather than complimenting Senator McCain with experience in domestic policy and/or foreign policy, it appears the choice was made primarily out of desperation. The obvious reason for this pick, is to appeal to frustrated Senator Hillary Clinton supporters and other women voters.

Some say this choice was a great move by the McCain campaign while others say this will be a colossal mistake. One thing is certain, this move did indeed blunt the momentum built up by the Obama campaign during the Democratic Convention culminated by the exceptional speech by Obama last night.

Many will speculate that Senator Joe Biden will trounce her in the Vice-President debate. While others are already expressing concern as to how such a verbal pummeling of a woman in a debate will play on TV.

However, as is often the case with Republicans, they don't understand women will see through this charade and not vote for a woman who opposes a woman's right to chose and opposes abortion even in the case of incest or rape. A John McCain presidency could nominate up to three Supreme Court Justices which would surely result in the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

Governor Palin's personal story is admirable as a mother of five, including the birth recently of a child who suffers from Downs syndrome. She also refers to herself as a Hockey mom. is ok with hunting, and who likes to eat Moose burgers.

While some of this personal history may appeal to some voters in Michigan, women voters are smart voters who often deal with the daily kitchen table pocketbook issues faced by every American family.

With gas prices at $4.00 per gallon and energy prices going through the roof, women voters will support the ten year goal of U.S. independence from Middle East oil proposed by Barack Obama.

When women voters compare the continued tax breaks for the wealthy and oil companies supported by John McCain, they will vote for Barack Obama who proposes tax cuts for 95% of Americans, while increasing taxes for the very wealthy.

As women voters battle with family health care issues, it is more likely the affordable health care program for all proposed by Barack Obama is what they will support. Women will also be encouraged by Barack Obama's commitment to education by paying Teachers more and holding them accountable while providing a college opportunity for all who are also willing to provide some public service.

The selection of Governor Sarah Palin by John McCain adds to the historic aspects of this election.

However, change in direction on the issues is what the voters want, not just changes in faces or gender.

Stay Tuned

Dem Campaign Chatter 8-29-2008

George Wenschhof

Today, Barack Obama, Joe Biden and wives begin battleground states bus tour - The first visit will be Beaver, Pennsylvania.


"A Political Masterpiece" - The first reviews are in on Obama's speech last night - everyone is saying it was outstanding. Some trivia for you - a few lines used by Obama last night you may have heard before. The one where Obama says "'s not because McCain doesn't care, it's because he just doesn't get it" was similar to the line used by Michael Douglas in the movie "The American President". The forceful comment "that's a debate I want" or "that's a debate I look forward to" with McCain on the issues was used by President Bartlett in the TV sitcom "West Wing".


Gallup Poll has it Obama 48% and McCain 42% - They also have an analysis showing Obama has regained support of conservative Democrats. Read it here. Picking Joe Biden as his VP had to have helped this Democratic group support Obama.


Latest Buzz on McCain VP - supposedly, Minnesota Governor Pawlenty is out and some are saying Mitt Romney is as well. The latest new face is Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and the early reports indicate she is the pick. At 44, she is the youngest and the first woman to be elected Governor of Alaska. This, actually could be a good move by McCain in terms of gender, age , and position. However, her positions on the issues are still unknown to many. McCain turns 72 today. Today, Palin is expected to join McCain at a rally in Dayton, Ohio scheduled to begin at 11:00 AM ET.

With hurricane Gustav bearing down on the gulf coast, republicans are considering delaying their convention set to begin Monday in St. Paul, Minnesota.


Pakistan Presidential election heats up - The election is scheduled for September 6, only a little over a month since President Musharraf resigned. Zadari of the "Bhutto", Pakistan Peoples Party is the leading candidate and is coming under fire from opponents who question his mental stability. has more here.


Also, keep an eye on the republic of Georgia/Russia conflict - Putin said yesterday,the U.S. had been responsible for the Georgian aggression into South Ossetia - he was tying it to the U.S. Presidential election. Read more here. Russian Parliament recently recognized both South Ossetia and Abkhazia, break away regions from Georgia as independent countries. Stay Tuned.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Al Gore, Barack Obama Speeches and the Democratic Convention - Live Blogging

George Wenschhof

At 7:00 PM ET, Representative John Lewis (Ga.) gave a emotional speech on the anniversary of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech 45 years ago. He was there that day, we've come a long way, but we still have a distance to go. He introduces a tribute to MLK. Well done - it brought back memories and I was only ten.

The McCain campaign has released an ad to run tonight on TV. He congratulates Obama. Here is the video - watch it yourself and see what you think.

The McCain campaign will most likely leak their VP pick tonight in an attempt to distract from Obama's speech. The latest rumor is Minnesota Governor Pawlenty. If it is Pawlenty, Joe Biden will chew him up in the VP debate - Pawlenty has a very thin resume. Meg Whitman is the other most often mentioned for VP.

Again, to try to blunt the Obama speech, McCain will hold a rally in Dayton, Ohio tomorrow morning to announce and introduce his pick. Rumor has it, he is having trouble filling the 10,000 seat venue.

7:17 PM ET - The Obama campaign has released portions of his acceptance speech - read it here.

8:06 PM ET - Virginia Governor Tim Kaine's speech was good - If the American Dream is to own 7 houses, then McCain is your man. If your American Dream is to own a house, live in a safe neighborhood, and have affordable health care for your family, then Obama is your man.

Governor Bill Richardson had a good line - John McCain may pay hundreds of dollars for his shoes but we are the ones who will pay for his Flip Flops! Good Line!

8:30 PM ET - It's time to listen to Stevie Wonder!

Al Gore is scheduled to speak at 8:45 PM ET - the song in the background age of Aquarius, let the sun shine in. a huge applause - we must seize this opportunity to elect Barack Obama as President. If the election had been different in 2000, we would not be bogged down in Iraq, suffering a economic slow down and stuck with a administration that questions global warming. If you like Bush/Chaney, then elect McCain, if you want change then elect Obama/Biden. You would have a sensible foreign policy, health care for all, and a move to a reasonable energy policy.

An excellent speech on the planetary emergency that we are facing today. Tore into the Bush/Chaney administration and tied McCain to them. He recognized the millions of young people who have become energized. It's time for a change! Warned of McCain selecting up to three Supreme Court Justices and ending a woman's right to choose. Time for a change from the politics of the past based on fear. I know something about close elections and we all must work to elect Barack Obama as the next President of the United States.

If he had given speeches like this in 2000, the election would not have been close. An excellent speech!

Barack Obama is scheduled to speak shortly after 10:00 PM ET. Prepared text of speech is already out - Read it here.

9:23 PM ET - Joe Biden walks on stage - a surprise! This is an open convention. We are here for the millions of Americans that have been knocked down and to lift Americans up. For the firefighters, the men and women in the military, all the millions of you out there, we are here for the next President of the United States, Barack Obama.

10:03 PM ET - Illinois Senator Dick Durbin just concluded his remarks which were very good. Keeping with the video introduction theme, a video now begins of Barack Obama. When we find the video, we will post it here. His speech will begin soon.

10:15 PM ET - Exactly on time- Barack Obama walks on stage. Huge applause. Thank you so much, Thank you everyone. America - we are better than the last eight years - we are a better country than this. Enough! This election is our chance to keep the American promise alive. Remember on November 4th, eight is enough. McCain has voted with Bush 90% of the time.

Points out McCain's economic adviser has said "we are a Nation of whiners". It's not because McCain doesn't care, it's because he doesn't get it.

It is time for us to change America - that is why I am running for President of the United States.

I will stop giving tax breaks to companies that create jobs overseas and give them to those who create jobs here. I will cut taxes for 95% of Americans. I will set a goal that in ten years we will end our dependency of oil from the Middle East. I will invest 150 Billion in renewable energy sources over the next ten years.

I will invest in early childhood, pay higher salaries and ask for higher standards and accountability. If you invest in our country we will make sure you can afford college. Now, it is time for universal health care. Time to protect Social Security and give the promise of equal pay for a days work.

If John McCain wants to questions my temperament and judgement to serve as commander-in-chief, then that is a debate I am willing to have. This election is about you, change happens because American people demand it - this is one of those moments. Brings it back to the American spirit and the American promise and speaks of MLK and his speech 45 years ago.

Together, our dreams can be won. We can not turn back, not with so much work to be done. Thank you, God bless you and God bless the United States of America.

Wow! with all the build up, some may have wondered if the speech will equal the build up - well, the answer is, it exceeded the build up. He took it to McCain and the Republicans on the issues that matter most to Americans and said he was looking forward to debating McCain.

Democrats will be fired up and ready to go over the next 91/2 weeks!

Thursday's Theme in Denver is "Change You Can Believe In"

George Wenschhof

This is it, the night Barack Obama officially accepts the Democratic Party nomination for President. His speech at Denver's "Mile High" stadium, home of the Denver Broncos football team, is expected to be delivered to over 75,000 supporters.

Weather, security, and logistics are all concerns but tonight promises to be a must see as a very successful Democratic convention will come to a close.

Voters have seen the candidates and been given the opportunity to get to know their families and their backgrounds. The silliness of the "elitist" tag put on Barack Obama by Republicans has been exposed for what it is. Just, more low road, dirty tricks attempts at trying to take the attention away from 8 years of the failed domestic and foreign policies of the Republican George W. Bush administration. The latest ridiculous attempt at the elitist label is there are some columns in the background as part of the stage tonight and Republicans are trying to spin that - of course, they leave out that Bush used a similar background himself. By the way, how many Houses does McCain own?

The reason so many people come to see Barack Obama and hear his speeches is he gives them hope for the future. People are hungry for a new direction and tonight's theme says it all - "Change You can Believe In".

Both Bill and Hillary Clinton have given great speeches - I have to say that although Bill did a great job last night of hitting home at the failed domestic and foreign policies of the Bush administration, Hillary's speech on Tuesday night was even better. Between them, they have put an end to the speculation of whether or not Clinton supporters will vote for Obama. Democrats will unite for they understand the country can not stand four more years of the same.

Vice President nominee, Senator Joe Biden showed why he was chosen By Barack Obama last night as he was able to clearly point out the foreign policy failures in judgement by McCain and how Barack Obama was right. Joe Biden with his experience as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will only add strength to the Democratic ticket. His growing up in Scranton, Pennsylvania under humble circumstances, his personal tragedy and triumphs are all aspects voters can identify with as they get to know him.

It is fitting that on the 45th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's "I have a Dream Speech", the first African-American to accept a political party nomination for President will speak to Americans.

Tonight will kick off about 6:30 PM ET and the organizers of this year's Democratic convention have been on schedule. Yesterday, I almost missed the roll call for I thought it would start a little later than scheduled, but no, it was on time. It was also fun to watch! As I mentioned yesterday, it brought added excitement and unity among Democrats.

The speakers will be Colorado Governor Bill Ritter, DNC chair Howard Dean, Rep. John Lewis and Virginia Governor Tim Kaine. A real treat will be had by all when Stevie Wonder performs. Al Gore will follow the performance by Stevie Wonder. Susan Eisenhower and then Illinois Senator Dick Durbin will speak before Barack Obama takes the stage.

We will do some live blogging tonight. Stay Tuned.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Bill Clinton, Joe Biden Speeches and the Democratic Convention - Live Blogging

George Wenschhof

Some in the media were reporting yesterday, former President Clinton was having problems with the Obama campaign over what issues his speech tonight will cover. Supposedly, the Obama campaign wanted Clinton to stick to tonight's theme of "Securing America's Future" and Bill Clinton wanting to discuss the economy. Remember, It's the economy, stupid, was a statement made popular during his campaign. The economy is the main issue with voters again today - guess we just can't trust Republicans with our economy.

Some of the discussion continued today, but as of now the story is Clinton will give his own speech, tying the economy to national security. Sounds reasonable to me - how about huge funds from China invested in our national debt, or the huge oil imports from the middle east and how that effects our national security.

The other question is will Clinton be on board with Obama. I say the man is a great Democrat and former President who loves to give a good speech. After watching his wife, Hillary knock it out of the Park last night, he will be ready to give as good or better. if possible speech.

Expect Vice President nominee Senator Joe Biden to do fine when discussing foreign policy, national security and taking it to McCain and the George W. Bush administration.

President Clinton should speak soon and expect Biden in the 10:00 PM ET hour.
Huge applause as he steps on stage - they don't stop cheering! He has to ask them to stop and to please sit. We have important work to do tonight-first to support Barack Obama and second, I'm here to warm up the crowd for Joe Biden. I love Joe Biden and Americans will too. The primary race created so much heat it affected global warming. Last night Hillary said she is going to everything she can do to elect Obama, that makes two of us.
Speaks of the problems with the economy at home and our dependence on foreign oil and foreign lenders. Our failure to use diplomacy across the world. Rebuild the American dream and restore American Leadership in the world is the task for the new President and Barack Obama is the man for the job. Barack Obama is ready to lead and to be President of the United States.
Speaks about how Obama will provide jobs, can not be strong abroad unless we are strong at home. People have been more impressed by our example instead of the example of our power. Talks about how American workers are worse off under the Bush administration. America can do better and Obama will do better than that.
McCain unfortunately supports the economics and foreign policy positions of the Bush administration and Republicans. We can't give the Republicans four more years, in this case the third time is not the charm. Mentioned when he ran the first time the Republicans said he was too young and too inexperienced to be commander in chief. It didn't work then and it won't work now because Obama is on the right side of history. This is good stuff!
Join me, Hillary, and Chelsea in making Barack Obama the next President of the United States. You can read his prepared remarks here.
10:15 PM ET Biden is expected to speak anytime now. The rumor is McCain has picked his VP and will announce who it is at a rally in Dayton, Ohio on Friday. The McCain campaign will probably leak it tomorrow night after Obama gives gives speech. Their hope is to try to blunt the media attention Obama will receive after his speech tomorrow night.
The video clip theme continues as one begin now of Biden - it is another biography and is family oriented. You can watch the video here.
Beau Biden Attorney General of Delaware, speaks, explains the auto accident that claimed the lives of his mom and sister and how his Dad spent time with him, taking the train home from Washington. Talks about the violence against women act his Dad wrote, the crime bill. Speaks of his new mom Jill. He asks the crowd to be with him and Obama as his Dad was with him -
nice intro
Joe Biden receives a great applause - the crowd is fired up tonight, the last night at the Pepsi Center. Honor to share this stage with President Clinton - I only hope we can do it again. Speaks highly of Hillary Clinton. Talks about his dad saying if you get knocked down, get up- speaks of his Mom who is in the audience. Speaks about his stuttering and how she helped him. My Parents taught us that everyone was equal and anyone can make it.
Talks about the kitchen table conversations people are having with the economy so bad - slips and says we can't afford to let Bush, McCain to be elected - says Freudian slip, but how true.
Speaks of how Obama will bring positive change to America. He disagrees with the direction McCain wants to take America - not change that's the same, uses this line several times and the crowd chimes in. voted against minimum wage incresae 19 times
Supposedly, there has been a Obama sighting and he is in Pepsi Center.
Biden is doing a good job of spelling out the domestic and foreign policy failures of the Bush administration - America can not afford four more years of the same. He points out the differences in McCain and Obama in foreign policy issues and how Mccain has been proven wrong and Obama right over and over again.
This is Obama's time, this is our time, this is America's time - God Bless America Thank you. A very good speech. You can read the full text of his speech here.
10:55 PM ET Here is Barack Obama - surprises Biden - I am so proud to have Biden with me to take America back. I feel the convention has gone well don't you think? Michelle kicked it off pretty well don't you think? Hillary Clinton rocked the house last night, President Bill Clinton reminded us about what it is like when you put people first!
We are moving to mile high stadium tomorrow. The reason is change comes from the bottom up - we want to make sure everyone can be there tomorrow. God bless you, God bless America. The crowd is going wild!

Roll Call Gets Everyone Fired Up in Denver!

George Wenschhof

The roll call started a little earlier than I had thought but ended as the rumors had indicated. Senator Hillary Clinton, speaking for the state of New York, moved for nomination by acclamation of Barack Obama after about 35 states had voted.

The excitement in the Pepsi Center was obvious to all watching as the roll call went state by state. It was fun to watch the speakers for each state cast their vote. They had the microphone and the opportunity to mention to the world all the wonderful aspects of their state and the great people associated with it.

It was fun to listen to Governor Martin O'Malley from my home state of Maryland speak and for congressman Cummings mention those who were from Maryland including, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who was born in the state. The Maryland vote of 100 went 94 for Obama and 6 for Clinton.

The roll call was the opposite of acrimony and instead provided unity and excitement to the delegates inside the Center and for all the Democrats watching. It is now officially a history making moment with the first African-American nominated as a Presidential candidate. It is a proud moment for the Democratic Party.

Excitement Builds in Denver

Bob Kresslein

Editor's Note: Bob Kresslein is chair of the Frederick County, Maryland Democratic State Central Committee. As he is able to send posts to us, we will publish for you.

Received 4:32 PM ET

The assembled masses are buzzing with anticipation as today's third session of the DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION approaches. Clinton delegates met this morning for a caucus which one imagines to be quite interesting. How many Clinton delegates hold for Hillary or vote for Obama? Conventional wisdom (no pun intended) is that Hillary will release her delegates and many will elect to vote for Obama, taking the opportunity to cast their vote for this historic nominee. Stay tuned.

In the Maryland delegation, it was Sheila Dixon Day, the Baltimore Mayor hosting breakfast. We were joined by a particularly at-ease Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who was at once charming and tough, taking on John McCain's less than stellar health care record.

Last night Attorney General Doug Gansler hosted an event at Gumbo's Restaurant on 16th Street featuring Robert Kennedy Jr., as a speaker. He convincingly discussed how the Bush Administration has abused the constitutional liberties of Americans and tarnished America reputation as the protector of such liberties around the world.

Day 3 Democratic Convention Recap: Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Ann-Marie Luciano Bio

Written at 12:30 p.m. MT, August 27, 2008

Yesterday Maryland had its official state delegation luncheon at the beautiful Botanical Gardens in Denver. At the luncheon we heard a little bit from most of our Maryland slate. Maryland's congressional representatives were honored by Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. Senator Mikulski also gave a preview of her conventions speech and got the crowd fired up about the importance of equal pay for equal work.

After the luncheon we headed off to the Pepsi Center, since security is tight and traffic is a bear so it has been taking up to an hour to get there from door to door. There are protesters throughout the city, but their numbers are small and they are significantly outnumbered by all of the pro-Obama supporters throughout the city. As a general matter, the protesters fall into one of three categories: anti-choice, anti-war, or what I will refer to us "religious enthusiasts." Last night when we left the Pepsi Center, the pedestrian traffic ended up bringing us right to where the protesters were staged. Despite this meshing of divergent interests, everything seemed to be peaceful.

One speech last night that I understand went mostly unnoticed by the media was that of Governor of Montana, Brian Schweitzer. He gave a rousing, animated speech about energy and at every turn distinguished Obama from McCain. The Governor hit the theme over and over again that McCain is More of the Same while Obama has an actual energy plan that will bring us independence from foreign oil. It's a shame this speech wasn't covered more by the media - it really hit all of the marks in terms of defining Obama, distinguishing Obama from McCain, casting McCain as McSame, and revving up the crowd.

After the convention, Attorney General Gansler had a party for the Maryland delegation at Gumbo's restaurant downtown. The special guest was Robert F. Kennedy Jr. or "Bobby." Bobby gave an amazing speech discussing how America's power and standing in the world has changed so drastically from the time when his father was a Senator to now. Bobby talked about how secure America was when we were looked to by Europe and the world generally for leadership. He said that Bush and McCain's theory that American is secure when she is feared was wrong and proceeded to go back into the beginning of American history to recite many examples of America's leaders taking the high road in moral leadership. It was an incredible opportunity to hear from him - especially given the fact that the Kennedy family is an icon in American politics.

Day 2 Democratic Convention Recap: Monday, August 25, 2008

Ann-Marie Luciano Bio

Editor's Note - Ann-Marie lost Internet connection until today. This was written Monday night and we received recently when she gained access to the Internet.

Written 12:00 p.m. MT:

This morning started with each state having its own state delegation meeting. For Maryland, we heard from Governor O'Malley, Congressman Cummings, Party Chair Michael Cryor, and our special guest -- former U.S. Senator from Colorado Gary Hart. The Senator said something that stuck with me: that Republicans are not good at governing because they don't believe in government. Hurricane Katrina was the best example of this. Republicans do not represent the vast majority of Americans' interests. Senator Hart explained that the way they get Americans to vote against their own interests is to use fear. By focusing on fear to the exclusion of actual issues, Democratic issues get lost.

In light of this I think that every Obama supporter needs to bring every conversation about the election down to the real, substantive issues. Don't let McCain supporters get away with changing the subject to Obama's patriotism or his "celebrity." They want the election to be about these non-issues, hoping many of us will forget that when it comes to what matters, McCain is only on the side of the rich and the well-connected.

After the state meeting I headed to the Convention Center for the Ethnic Coordinated Caucus meeting. This is a caucus focused on how Obama can reach out to various European and Muslim ethnic communities. Representatives from Irish-American, Italian-American, Iranian-American, Polish-American, and Democrats Abroad, as well as many others, were in attendance. DNC Chair Howard Dean came to our a meeting for a special appearance. He talked about how important it is for each of us to go into our respective communities and register voters, walk door to door and spread the word about Barack Obama. The various panelists talked about how the focus of the reach-out is on certain ethnic communities in certain key states. Rather than simplifying the vote as "Catholic vote" or "Christian vote" the campaign instead is focusing on the interests of various ethnic communities in order to build support for Barack Obama.

Tonight a bunch of us from Western Maryland will be heading to the Democratic Governors party. Can't wait.

Wednesday's Theme in Denver is "Securing America's Future"

George Wenschhof

A little trivia - Both Republican and Democratic conventions are scripted these days so a true open convention is not something the voters are going to witness anytime soon. Interestingly, in the past, it has been the Republican conventions that have been on schedule and the Democratic conventions have sometimes veered a little off track and run past scheduled times for Speakers. This year, so far, the Democrats are keeping on schedule.

Yesterday, all of the the speakers did well with former Virginia Governor and current Senate candidate, Mark Warner giving a good speech on the past and the importance of doing things better for our children and their future. Of course, Hillary Clinton was the highlight and gave an outstanding speech uniting Democrats to support Barack Obama. Her line of "No way, No how, No McCain" brought down the house. Here is a short video excerpt of her speech.

Today brings even more excitement as we will see a roll call vote, watch more Democratic notables, listen to former President Bill Clinton and hear Vice-President nominee Joe Biden. It all begins at 5:00 PM ET

The rest of the speakers today are: Senator Jack Reed (RI), former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (SD), Senator John Kerry (Mass.), Governor Bill Richardson (NM), and Representative Chet Edwards (Tex). All of these speakers were under consideration for the VP slot.

As to the roll call vote, much discussion has transpired and many opinions offered pertaining to should there be one? I say, why not? After Senator Clinton's speech last night, a roll call will not be distracting for Obama and will actually build excitement.

This morning the details of the roll call scheduled to begin at 6:00 PM ET were announced. First, vote tally sheets will be handed out. Next, Clinton will receive a nominating speech, followed by two second speeches. Then Obama will receive a nominating speech, followed by three second speeches. The vote tally sheets will be collected, followed by a roll call of the states. Then the results will be announced.

It will be fun to see who is giving the nominating and second speeches. Look to see the vote suspended at some point during the roll call with a move for a vote of acclamation for Obama. Last night, the rumor was this would occur when it got to the state of New York and Senator Clinton would move for a vote of acclamation. We'll know soon enough.

Former President Clinton will speak earlier in the evening and everyone is anticipating another classic speech from him. Vice President nominee Joe Biden will speak last and will give perhaps one of the most important speeches he has given in a long distinguished career.

Stay Tuned.

Talking Trash in Frederick County, Maryland Continues...

George Wenschhof

Today, we publish another column from the two Democrats on the Frederick County, Maryland Board of County Commissioners. Board President Jan Gardner and Commissioner Kai Hagen agreed to submit a series of columns on the issue of waste disposal. In case you may have missed a previous column, links to all of their columns published on our site can be found over in the right hand margin.

The issue of how to dispose of future county waste is an important one. These County Commissioners have different points of view as to how to proceed in this area, so we encourage you to read both of their columns.

We thank both of the County Commissioners for taking the time to submit columns on such a complex issue. We feel it is beneficial to have this information available to the voters of Frederick County to read at their convenience.

If you have comments you wish to share with them, you can choose to click on "Comments" at the end of the column and follow the instructions. Any off topic comment or one that is a personal attack will not be published. To view our comment policy, click on our User Agreement at the bottom of the Home Page.

Their next column is scheduled to appear on September 24, 2008.

Fact or Fiction? Fact or Opinion?

Jan H. Gardner

The Internet provides many of us with the ability to communicate in an instance and with an ability to discover an incredible amount of information on any topic with the touch of a few keystrokes. We can "Google" any phrase, person, place, or topic and have multiple sources of information appear before our eyes almost instantaneously! It seems magical, particularly for those of us who remember the task of researching homework assignments at the public library using a paper card catalogue!

This abundance of readily available information has its advantages and disadvantages. The sheer amount of information can be overwhelming and difficult to absorb. It can also be difficult to sort through conflicting information and details to determine what is accurate and factually correct. There are many sources of information that are not fact based but rather opinion based making the information that seems factual unreliable. Some information may be inaccurate or incomplete because the source has simply not done their homework (presumably the old fashioned way)! Just because it is in print and published online doesn't mean the information provided is accurate.

Sources of information that could be unreliable or more opinion than fact include websites and web pages created by individuals or unidentified groups, wikipedia and other wiki's, Internet forums, You Tube, and blogs. Many of these sources provide opinion and information based on opinion. It is important to recognize that almost anyone can create a website. If the source of the information or the individual or organization responsible for the website is unidentified, then the information may not be credible. The best sources of information are often from websites established by longstanding, known, and identified sources. It is difficult for the average person researching a topic online to sort fact from fiction and fact from opinion!

The Internet has become a significant source of information and commentary about the solid waste issues facing Frederick County. There are Internet forums with threads debating the pros and cons of WTE, recycling, composting, and resource recovery. Frequently, these forum discussions go "off topic" and sometimes the dialogue is contentious. There is a mix of information and opinion in these discussion forums. There are new websites focused specifically on Frederick County solid waste issues, at least one without an identified source. Some of the information is accurate and some of it is not. There are lengthy e-mail exchanges among a large group of individuals with plenty of information shared often utilizing Internet research. These exchanges have also ventured "off topic" and some discussions have been confrontational diminishing otherwise productive dialogue. At the end of the day, we all need to sort through the massive amounts of information available on this subject to determine what information we can believe and rely upon and what information is simply not accurate or dependable. The source of the information clearly matters.

In an effort to sort fact from fiction and fact from opinion, I will do my best to provide answers to some frequently asked questions about Frederick County solid waste management issues. I will do my best to separate fact from fiction and fact from opinion.

Why hasn't a Waste-to-Energy (WTE) facility been constructed in the United States for the past decade?

It is factually true that a WTE facility has not been constructed in the United States for more than a decade though several jurisdictions are considering WTE facilities including Frederick County and Harford County in Maryland. The most recent WTE facilities constructed have been in Europe and Asia. This is why a contingent of county representatives toured solid waste disposal systems in Europe including four mass burn WTE facilities, a mechanical biological processing facility, recycling processing facilities, and a large automated organic composting facility.

It is somewhat a matter of opinion as to why a WTE facility has not been built in recent years in the United States. The availability of low cost mega-landfills and overall market conditions are major factors. WTE facilities are generally considered as viable disposal options in areas of the country where land is limited or very expensive for use as a landfill. Most of the WTE facilities in the United States are located in or near population centers, where the cost of land is most expensive and the availability of land most limited. By way of example, there are numerous WTE facilities in New England, Long Island, New Jersey, Maryland, and Virginia. Many metropolitan communities, both counties and municipalities, have made a choice in the last decade to ship their trash to out-of-state mega-landfills. Shipping trash long distances has become dramatically more expensive due to the rising cost of fuel and due to some states adding surcharges for out-of-state trash. As existing mega-landfills fill-up, many communities will be forced to find new mega-landfill options, often located at greater distances, with the increased price tag associated with shipping waste longer distances. As shipping to out-of-state landfills becomes more expensive, more communities are likely to consider other options including WTE facilities. In my opinion, the availability of less expensive mega-landfill options and market conditions are the primary reasons no WTE facilities have been constructed in the United States in recent years. (This is a mix of fact and opinion.)

Has the County considered shipping waste to out-of-state landfills by rail vs. by truck?

Yes. When the County put out bids for both the interim transfer operation and the long-term transfer of waste to out-of-state landfills, both truck and rail options were requested. The County received no bids for rail options. The County staff has recently asked the Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority (NWMDA) to re-assess rail options. To facilitate the use of rail, the County would have to transfer waste by truck to a rail siding and depending upon the out-of-state landfill may have to do the same on the receiving end. (This is fact.)

Has the County considered alternatives such as plasma gasification waste-to-energy or waste to ethanol?

Yes. The County has considered new technology alternatives, but has made a conscious choice to not invest in unproven technologies. The County decided, based on advice from solid waste management and financial advisors, that in order to raise capital and reduce risk associated with constructing a facility, the technology must have demonstrated performance history confirming its operating capabilities for a minimum of three years and the facility must be proven at a size no less than 80% of the selected facility.

Plasma arc and plasma gasification waste-to-energy systems have not yet been demonstrated in a large-scale operation. A large-scale plasma waste-to-energy system is currently under construction in Florida but has not yet been operational and will not open for another year. The Maryland Department of Environment has expressed concern about this technology because it consumes a tremendous amount of electricity, pollution impacts are not well defined or known, it is not clear whether a large scale operation is practical and the costs of operation are not known. It would be difficult to obtain permits for a plasma waste-to-energy facility with these unknowns. There is a mix of opinion regarding pollution from plasma systems and concern that pollution impacts are significantly greater from plasma gasification and plasma arc systems than mass burn waste-to-energy.

Waste-to-ethanol is also relatively new technology. County staff has reported, to the best of their knowledge and research, that there are no full-scale municipal solid waste-to-ethanol facilities operational in the United States, or for that matter, in any other country. There are at least eleven waste-to-ethanol pilot plants or demonstration projects are under construction in the United States. These plants often utilize a specific waste stream such as agricultural waste or similar commercial waste. Municipal solid waste is not an ideal uniform feedstock for biological processes. Its organic and cellulosic material content can vary significantly. At this point, the costs and environmental impacts are not reasonably known. (Response is fact based while noting a "mix of opinion".)

Has the County considered requiring air emission standards similar to European standards?

Yes. Should the County proceed with a WTE facility, the County will require the most advanced state of the art technology available. Specifically, both vendors that have submitted WTE proposals have included air emission limits, which are stricter than required by the EPA and the State of Maryland. Specifically, both vendors have proposed European type advanced NOx reduction systems and European waste management systems. (October 26, 2007 staff report. This is fact.)

Why doesn't the County implement a Pay As You Throw or volume based trash collection system?

The County provides trash disposal but does not perform trash collection. The municipalities in the County provide trash collection, generally through a contract with a private hauler. The City of Frederick provides trash collection to its residents through city employees. Residents and businesses in the unincorporated areas of the county receive trash collection through individual contracts with haulers or through their HOA contract with a private hauler.

The County has no existing regulatory authority to require private trash haulers to collect trash on a volume basis or pay-as-you-throw system (PAYT). PAYT systems require consumers to pay by the bag, by weight, or with a system of multiple sizes of trash bins with graduated pricing. The County does have the ability to bid out trash collection countywide as one contract for all the unincorporated areas of the county. This bid would effectively eliminate the majority of the haulers doing business in the County and would make the County dependant upon a single hauler for trash collection services.

The County Commissioners have requested legislative authority for solid waste franchising to allow the creation of numerous collection districts, that could be bid or contracted with multiple haulers and accommodate the current mix of small, medium, and large haulers doing business in the County. Franchising would allow the County to maintain a robust system of collection with multiple haulers. This legislative initiative has failed repeatedly. Franchising would also allow the County the ability to require single stream recycling countywide, as well as, yard waste collection and periodic bulk waste pick-up. The County does not have the authority or ability to regulate haulers through licensing agreements. All haulers are licensed by the State of Maryland through the Department of Labor and Licensing. Municipal governments can implement pay-as-you-throw systems within their respective municipalities through their contracts with private haulers.

There have been many questions about the County's legislative authority regarding pay-as-you-throw systems. The County Attorney will be providing an overview of all the County's legislative authority related to solid waste management at a BOCC meeting on September 9, 2008. This meeting can be viewed on channel 19 or through the Internet.

Pay-as-you-throw or volume based trash collection would create an incentive to reduce the waste stream and increase recycling and composting efforts. The County Commissioners would like to consider pay-as-you-throw in combination with expanded single stream recycling to divert a larger amount of waste from our disposal stream. At this juncture, our legislative ability to implement such a collection system is limited. (Comments are fact based.)

Why consider accepting trash from Carroll County? Won't this mean hundred of trash truck traveling through Frederick County on a daily basis?

The Frederick County Commissioners are considering partnering with the Carroll County Commissioners to construct a regional Waste-to-Energy facility. Carroll County is also shipping its trash to out-of-state mega-landfills. Partnering with Carroll County provides both jurisdictions with an economy of scale and lower overall cost per ton for disposal. The partnership with Carroll County is being considered to reduce costs and share risk. If the partnership with Carroll County proceeds and a regional WTE facility is located in Frederick County, the truck traffic associated with shipping Frederick County's trash out-of-state could be eliminated while the truck traffic associated with accepting Carroll County's trash would be added. Frederick County is currently generating approximately 40 long-haul trucks per day, give or take, to ship our waste out-of-state. Carroll County is currently generating about 30 long-haul trucks per day, give or take, to ship their waste out-of-state. Thus, if a WTE facility is located in Frederick County, approximately 40 long-haul truck trips will be potentially eliminated, while 30 long-haul truck trips will be added, resulting in a net reduction of about 10 long-haul truck trips. Since the waste will be transferred, the timing of the truck shipments can be controlled and the truck traffic accepted into Frederick County could be required to occur during non-peak hours or even in the middle of the night. Depending upon the location of the WTE facility, Frederick County could continue to transfer trash within the county. Individual trash trucks from residential or commercial collection will not be delivering trash from Carroll County to Frederick County. Specific details would be defined in a contract or agreement between the two counties. (This is factual information that has been publicly discussed.)


In conclusion, sorting fact from fiction and fact from opinion is challenging! I personally place a high value on the information from county and municipal solid waste professionals and their experiences. They are on the front line of waste management. In my experience, reliable and known sources of information provide the best information. There is not a single answer or single approach to responsibly managing solid waste in a manner that protects public health and the environment.

Jan Gardner is President of the Frederick County, Maryland Board of Commissioners

“Waste-to-Energy” = a risky waste of energy, resources and money (part 2)

Kai Hagen

Picking up where I left off...


WTE proponents often point out that even the best recycling and recovery efforts will still leave "residuals" that have to be dealt with in another manner. That's true. But contrary to the impression some still have, WTE incineration does not make everything go "away." Incineration does reduce the weight and volume of the materials burned. But it is, nevertheless, important to note that the remaining ash still leaves us with twenty-five to thirty percent of the original weight and ten to fifteen percent of the original volume. If we are only asking how much incineration can stretch out the existing capacity of our landfill, that is a significant reduction. But when we start to compare this approach to other alternatives, we have to remember that even with incineration we are left with a great deal of ash that needs to be shipped out of state (as Montgomery County does) or placed in a landfill. The current plan is to use it as "cover" in our own landfill. If we did nothing else, that would still use up our landfill capacity, and leave the county with the need to haul it out of state or site another landfill in the future (something that will only get more difficult and more expensive over time, and which we are not considering at this time).


Many people who are concerned about a new WTE incinerator in our back yard are concerned about the potential and uncertain effects on public health and the environment in our community. This is a lively and challenging part of the broader debate, with a wide variety of studies and reports offering a wide variety of results.

Efforts to address the concern many residents have about local emissions have always included the assurance that the emissions would be monitored and would meet current EPA standards. I appreciate that, and there's no doubt that an incinerator built today would have better emissions controls than those in the past. Of course, in the past, many communities were assured that everything was fine, because those incinerators met the EPA standards of the time. That is what people were told in Minneapolis, for instance, where a huge incinerator was built in the middle of the city. After the incinerator had been in operation twenty-four hours a day, three hundred and sixty-five days a year, for years, continuing research about the health effects of mercury led the federal government to make the new standards one hundred times tougher. While it remains to be seen whether the current mercury standard is adequate, it is small consolation to those elsewhere who were assured that meeting EPA standards was a sufficient response to their concerns.

In any case, there is no question about the fact that old and new incinerators pollute: All incinerators release pollutants through air emissions and ash. These include acid gases, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, metals (such as mercury and lead), dioxins and furans, and at least 190 volatile organic compounds. Even at lower levels of emissions than in the past, it's worth noting that some of these are extremely dangerous, and that some of them do not break down - they will be persistent and bioaccumulative in our local environment.

We should not simply write off or dismiss the concerns and warnings from people like Marie Lynn Miranda of Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment (and many others). The school released a comprehensive international study on waste incineration. According to Ms. Miranda, one of the researchers, "uncertainties about the toxicities of some chemicals emitted by even the best incinerators raise questions about the technology's environmental viability… We don't even know what some of those air toxins can do in the lab, much less in an uncontrolled environment." And "the problem with incinerators is that we don't know as much about the potential impacts associated with their pollutants."

The effects of "air toxics," a variety of incompletely investigated chemicals like benzene and trichloroethylene, is a major uncertainty. Waste incinerators emit more of these chemicals than do fossil-fueled power plants. Today there are emerging concerns about the health effects of extremely fine particles, or nanoparticles, which are emitted from incinerators, and can get deeper into the lungs than most things we have been exposed to in the past. Some available scientific reports suggest that nanoparticles pose a significant threat to human health and to the environment.

As I was writing this I received an email about a recent study published in Environmental Science & Technology, entitled "Occurrence and Profiles of Chlorinated and Brominated Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons in Waste Incinerators." I'm not a scientist, and it is not easy to discern the absolute truth from such a range of research and results from credible sources, but it is clear that many highly credible sources have serious concerns. If nothing else, this does seem like an area where we would be well advised to err on the side of caution, especially when we have good alternatives.

I'll add that even though I believe there are genuine concerns about the public health and environmental effects of a large, local WTE incinerator, my opposition to such a facility does not rely on those concerns. Based on a still lengthy list of other concerns, I would object just as strongly if I could be 100% certain that there were no risks to local residents and the immediate environment. To quote Paul Connett: "Remember, even if you made incineration safe (doubtful) you would never make it sensible. It simply doesn't make sense to spend so much money destroying resources we should be sharing with the future."


Just as the continuing research into the health and environmental effects of various substances continues to add to the information available, a decision about WTE will be made in a world where many other related elements are rapidly-changing. Certainly, this is true about almost any major decision we are facing. But it's a particular concern when the decision comes with such great costs and entails a decades-long commitment, and when some of the key factors relevant to the decision are changing faster and more dramatically then ever.

It's clear that the economic viability of WTE depends on a twenty-five or thirty year horizon. Only, unlike a 30 year mortgage on a house, we won't have the option to matter how much things change in the coming years. That would be serious concern under any circumstances. That is not likely a concern to the company that will be paid to build and operate the facility, however, since there is little or no risk for them. No private business would make the decision to invest such a sum, and lock themselves into that decision for decades, without a far more thorough and detailed analysis than the county has done, and most certainly not without an equally thorough comparison to reasonable alternatives. But a private business is willing to build and operate our facility because their customer (the county) would be fully committed, AND because local government has the ability - and, in this case, the obligation - to raise rates and fees as necessary to ensure the enterprise is profitable, almost no matter what. The risk is all ours - the residents and taxpayers of Frederick County.

And the risk that this is an ill-advised investment and commitment is significantly greater than we are being led to believe.

Even the relatively rosy scenarios that have been described to date, and used to justify the WTE option, are based on - and rely on - a number of assumptions (as they must be) that are questionable in the short term, and get increasingly likely to be highly inaccurate in the long term. These include assumptions about the county's population, per capita waste generation rates, the nature of our wastestream, the costs of inevitable upgrades (to meet new standards), the revenues from the electricity generated, the market values of a broad range of recoverable (recycled) materials, and more. A responsible evaluation of the risks would examine outcomes with a broader range of realistic scenarios. After all, once we head down this road, there's no turning back (at least not without major financial penalties to the county).

Thirty-years is a long time. Thirty years ago was 1978. The world has changed a great deal during that time. And, even more, the rate of change has accelerated over those decades, and continues to accelerate today. We're seeing major changes - even striking paradigm shifts - in a number of categories that could or would have a direct and major effect on the economic viability and wisdom of WTE incineration. Many of these changes deserve entire columns of their own, but I hope a quick look at a few of them should suffice to make the broader point.

During the course of the next two or three decades, we are certain to see new and (almost always) tougher standards for many of the pollutants associated with WTE incineration, and new ones we don't even know about yet. Once you commit to an incinerator, you commit to doing (spending) whatever it takes to retrofit the facility in order to meet the new and tougher standards, whether they apply to mercury, lead, dioxins, furans, etc., or something newly regulated, such as CO2 or ultra fine particles. Big changes are likely with regard to carbon dioxide emissions. Carbon dioxide is not considered "hazardous," but it the primary greenhouse gas we are pumping into the atmosphere. It is almost certain we will see limits on CO2 emissions, perhaps in the form of caps for the entire state or specific regions. Interestingly, a recent Supreme Court decision found that CO2 could be treated as a "pollutant" for purposes of regulation. Any requirement to substantially reduce CO2 emissions from an incinerator could be very expensive.

In many respects, the United States has not been on the forefront of some of the legislative and regulatory changes we are seeing in Europe and elsewhere. But we only need to look at what has been happening in those places (and other places in this country) to get a sense of what will happen here in areas such as manufacturer take-back laws, outright bans on certain materials and products, restrictions about what can be burned at all, and a lot more. Anyone paying attention to related developments in this country already knows that nearly every day brings news of a development along these lines, large and small (such as bans on plastic bags, or styrofoam packaging, and so on). Given the rapid development of high quality and economically-competitive alternatives, it's only a matter of time before either government or the marketplace brings about the end of petroleum-based plastics for many one-time uses, in favor of fully recyclable or compostable alternatives. Much of this will be happening quickly, and the pace of change will only accelerate. We are not talking about a few minor changes that are decades away.

These are just a very few examples of changes that are coming. And that leads to one of the most relevant and significant changes we are already seeing...


For a long time, one of the elements that held back major commitments to recycling was the lower and/or uncertain and volatile market value of recovered materials. In just the last year or two or three, we have seen dramatic increases in the market value of a wide variety of recovered materials. A few weeks ago, there was a major article published in "Business Week," entitled "Cash for Trash: Recyclers are devising dazzling new ways to mint fortunes from America's mountains of waste." In many ways, it solidly reinforced the point that "Trash is no longer just an environmental liability. It is becoming a financial asset."

One part of the article talked about how "The possibilities have venture capitalists and buyout firms scrambling to invest in a melange of quirky startups that might have provoked belly laughs from these same financiers five years ago." I highlight that particular sentence to emphasize the point that highly relevant factors we must consider are already much different then they were when the county started down the road to WTE incineration a few years ago.

Some might respond that such changes are ephemeral, or that, at the very least, the price volatility creates too much uncertainty. But unless you honestly believe that a variety of commodities, most particularly oil, are going to get a lot less valuable and expensive, the better bet is that we've only seen the beginning of a dramatic increase in the value of recycled/recovered materials. The article continues by saying: "The calculus is simple: As the prices of oil and other raw materials rise, recycled products become more attractive. Consider that 8% of global oil production is siphoned off to make plastic each year. Recycled plastic, however, requires 80% less energy to produce. Recycled aluminum burns up 95% less energy. Recycled iron and steel use 74% less, while paper requires 64% less. The money piles up quickly: One ton of recycled aluminum saves an average of $700 in electricity."

We are already experiencing the early stages of a major shift, one that suggests that alternatives to WTE would likely "cost" far less. And more and more evidence suggests that a well developed system that can provide high quality materials, may very well be able to pay for itself. Obviously, we don't have to bank on that happening soon or at all. We only need to have good evidence that it is a better and less risky approach.

Which brings me to...


Frederick County has an important decision to make. And the limited capacity of our landfill. combined with the cost of hauling our waste out of state, have contributed to a sense of urgency in this process. That is understandable.

But a decision to make the largest investment in the county's history, and to commit to this approach for the next three decades, is too important a decision to make without having completed a full and thorough analysis of the alternatives. It is often said that the county has looked at this for a long time and in great detail. But our efforts so far are flawed and incomplete, and include only an inadequate comparison of WTE incineration to hauling-only and landfilling-only alternatives (which nobody is advocating!).

If you are skeptical about that, please ask for documentation that shows a reasonable and responsible analysis of a Resource Recovery Business Park-focused alternative plan. One that is based on our wastestream and volume, takes into account the value of recovered materials today, includes a county-based, state-of-the-art Materials Recovery Facility, and so on. We haven't done anything remotely like that yet. If you ask that question, you might also want to ask for a single example - just one - of an outside expert/consultant that has been part of the official county information-gathering and decision-making process (on the county's time or dime) who has either been opposed to WTE incineration or has been actively supporting any alternative.

In any case...

The ability to continue to transport what would be a diminishing volume of waste out of state, while we ratchet up planned (and other) recycling efforts, gives us the time and space we need to engage this critical decision-making process in a more complete and responsible manner. It is more important to make a decision about this well, than to make it quickly. And we do have time.

I'm convinced there are viable alternatives that are far more economically-responsible, more environmentally-friendly, and, generally, much more in tune with the way the world is moving. As contentious and frustrating and stressful as this process has been, I have to believe that we will not make this decision and commitment without a fair and thorough examination of the basic concept that so many (and more all the time) have been asking for.

One of the most critical differences between WTE incineration and potential alternatives is that the alternatives would be inherently more flexible and adaptable and dynamic in our changing world, and much less risky as a result. The county commissioners owe it to the people of Frederick County to be more diligent and certain before giving up that flexibility, and locking the next six or seven boards, and the residents and taxpayers, into a very expensive, unpopular, outdated, and irretrievably inflexible "solution."

Thank for getting this far, and for your interest in this important subject.

NEXT COLUMN: Recommended next steps for the process, and the possibility of a much better alternative.

Kai Hagen is a member of the Frederick County, Maryland Board of Commissioners